Crescenza is a soft, rindless cheese from Lombardia that is great to eat on its own, to savor its fresh, milky flavor, or to use in cooking. A few weeks ago, I read this post, in which Ian, one of the participants in the Cheesepalooza event, described his experience making Crescenza according to Mary Karlin's recipe. I immediately decided to try making it. I found Ms. Karlin's recipe on this page, whereas Ian got it from her book Artisan Cheese Making at Home. [March 22, 2014 update: the page on Culture magazine's website referenced in the last sentence is no longer available, so when I recently made Crescenza again, I followed the recipe on this page, but halved the amount of milk and of the other ingredients and also of the time the cheese is brined. Having in the meantime acquired a 7.5-inch / 19 cm round mold, I make only one cheese. Read the post until the end when I discussed aging, another place where I diverge from the original recipe.]
Here are some images from the process (as you know, I ♥ making cheese):
I don't have square bottomless molds, so I used two cylindrical bottomless molds.
Advice #1 When a cylindrical bottomless mold has just been filled with curds, it is quite unstable. A minor jiggle may cause it to lift up, in which case the curds will rush out from the bottom: not what you want (trust me). To help prevent the mold from moving, I suggest to put a sterilized piece of cloth under the mold (as shown in this post). You won't see such a cloth in the photo, because this time I forgot to use it.
It does not take a long time for the mass of curds to lose whey (siero di latte) and become more compact. Once draining is done, the cheese is moved into a brine bath (salamoia).
Advice #2. When moving cheese, for example from the draining box into the brine and then from the brine back into the draining box, never pick it up by pressing your fingers on the side, but always raise it by placing your hands underneath it.
While the cheese was brining, I made ricotta with the leftover whey.
In case you are wondering, the texture on the surface is a combination of the imprints of two different draining mats.
After brining, the cheese is air-dried, covered, for an hour before being refrigerated.
Overall, the recipe is pretty straightforward and since this is a fresh cheese, you don't have to wait long to taste the fruit of your labor. How long? On this important point, the recipe is not specific. These are the last two sentences:
Wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap or vacuum-seal, and refrigerate until ready to use. Best if used within one week. Bring to room temperature before serving
I wrapped the two cheeses in plastic wrap and refrigerated them, then took one out before dinner and tasted it: the texture was nice, but the flavor bland. I wrapped it again and put it back in the refrigerator. Two days later, I emptied the whey that had collected at the bottom of the container where the cheeses were and prepared it for a second taste: much better. I could start to taste the distinctive delicate tang of Crescenza. The flavor continued to improve in the following 3-4 days, then plateaued. My observation is actually consistent with what I read in a couple of pages (like this one and this one, both in Italian), where the ripening time of crescenza is indicated to be 5-7 days. Hence, the second time I made crescenza, I let it ripen 5 days before tasting it.
In the introdutory note, Ms. Karlin says: "A small amount of rennet is also stirred in, resulting in a slightly firmer cheese than classic Crescenza." This is fine by me. I definitely agree with the last instruction: bring cheese to room temperature before serving it.
My Crescenza was such a success that both times I have made it, it has disappeared quickly (within a few days of first tasting). Crescenza is great on a piece of bread (the one in the top photo is pumpkin bread) and in cooked dishes (for example, instead of robiola in my curried sweet chilli peppers and also in my version of a traditional Italian cheese dish that will be the subject of a post in the near future).
Valerie of A Canadian Foodie has launched a year long event called Cheesepalooza, which encourages people to take up home cheese making via monthly challenges of increasing complexity. Crescenza is one of the optional cheeses chosen for the second month, when the main challenge was making basic chèvre. This post contains the roundup of optional cheeses for month #2.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the Crescenza fatta in casa audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
nella mia list dopo la ricotta arrivano subito la crescenza e lo stracchino, che non ho mai capito se sono la stessa cosa... mi piacerebbe assaggiare la tua crescenza su quella fetta di pane, saperla fatta in casa sarebbe sicuramente una bella sensazione, ciauzzzzz
Posted by: martissima | October 10, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Simona: I'm always impressed with your cheese-making skills!
Posted by: Paz | October 10, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Yes! I am going to make this, it sounds wonderful.
Posted by: Sally | October 10, 2012 at 03:29 PM
I have made mozzarella, ricotta, and farmer cheese, but I have been wanting to make the next step and make something more challenging. Yours turned out perfect looking. Congrats on the new CTB gig, btw.
Posted by: Debra | October 11, 2012 at 04:40 AM
Ciao Martissima. Ho letto cose un po' diverse sulla differenza o meno tra stracchino e crescenza e quindi, non essendo sicura, non mi pronuncio. Certamente appartengono alla stessa famiglia di formaggi, nel senso che sono fatti seguendo lo stesso procedimento.
I hope you do, Sally.
Hi Debra. I think this is a perfect "next step" cheese, in the sense that it involves a few important steps in cheese making, like adding culture, renneting, cutting and stirring the curd, but it is fairly quick to make and does not require pressing or a special aging set up. So, I hope you try making it. Thank you!
Posted by: Simona Carini | October 12, 2012 at 12:06 AM
just started with cheese making and it is just as fun and challenging as sourdough bread. how do you sterilize a cloth? I am making my crescenza (I call it stracchino) in a silicon drained, do you think that is acceptable? so nice you are into cheese, I am sure I can learn a lot from your experience.
Posted by: My Italian Smörgåsbord | October 17, 2012 at 05:18 AM
Ciao Barbara. I sterilize cloth in boiling water or, more often, by ironing it right before use. Do you mean a silicone mold? What does it look like?
Posted by: Simona Carini | October 17, 2012 at 10:04 PM
An excellent post, Simona. I learned a great deal from it and how wonderful that you can read the Italian posts, too. Gleaning this kind of information and using it to make my own cheese is what this project is all about. Love that you have done this!
Thank you so much!
Posted by: A Canadian Foodie | November 22, 2012 at 11:24 AM
Thanks, Valerie. This has actually become a regular cheese in my schedule. I made it again today and it's the fifth time two and a half month. Besides being fairly straightforward to make and to care for afterwards, it's quite versatile.
Posted by: Simona Carini | November 23, 2012 at 10:16 PM